The deadline for underclassmen to declare their intent to enter the 2016 NFL Draft came on Monday. True numbers won’t be released by the NFL until Friday, but this year’s draft could be crawling with underclassmen if announcements already made through their schools or on social media are a indicator.
While a horde of youngsters have decided to leave college early, some draft-eligible collegians – a player is permitted to enter the NFL draft before he graduates if he has been removed from high school football for three years – will return for another season. That decision will benefit a number of them.
We’ll call this the “Reggie Ragland Precedent,” even though many players before him have shown it works.
Shortly after Alabama won the national championship, and during the press-conference aftermath, coach Nick Saban was asked about athletes weighing the decision to turn pro before their eligibility has been completely used.
“Reggie Ragland last year, had a second-round grade,” Saban told reporters. “I’m sure he’ll be a top-15 pick this year. If you want to do the math on that, that’s like maybe $12-, $14-million decision. Mark Barron did it a few years ago. He was a second-round guy, maybe the seventh pick in the draft. That was a $16, $18-million decision, plus he graduated.”
Both Ragland and Barron turned incredibly tough decisions into financial windfalls, at least potentially in Ragland’s case since he hasn’t been drafted yet. Plus, they each got the dandy perk of winning a national title in their final year as well.
Who will be next year’s rendition of Ragland, or Barron? Here are six players who will benefit from another year in the college ranks.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen finished the 2015 with the SEC’s second-most sacks (12) and tied for sixth in tackles for loss (14.5). He knows how to get after the quarterback.
But he can still improve on that highly sought-after skill set at Alabama next season. He’ll do so with the return of draft-eligible underclassmen Reuben Foster and Tim Williams, guys who helped shape the Crimson Tide front seven into the most formidable unit in the country. Sure some of the talent around the front of the defense left, but Saban has never had trouble restocking the shelves. Alabama’s defense should be great again, and Allen could bolster his draft stock by shining even brighter.
Allen received a second-round grade from the NFL’s College Advisory Committee, according to Chris Low of ESPN. There’s definitely room to improve on that after 2016 for Allen.
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Davis wasn’t the man on Florida’s defense this past season, but began emerging as the season progressed. He finished third on the team in tackles for loss (11), second in tackles (98) and posted more than twice as many sacks in his final seven games (2.5) than he did in his first seven (1).
It’s hard not imagine Davis growing as a leader and building of those skills that helped him become one of the more explosive linebackers on the Gators’ roster. He’d have to really shift into high gear to turn himself into a Day 1 pick next year, but improving into Day 2 status seems on target.
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
It had to have been extremely hard for Howard not to have used his College Football Playoff explosion (eight combined catches for 267 yards and two scores) to bolt into the NFL, especially since ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. praised him so highly shortly after Alabama won the title.
“I think he’s right now the second-best, draft-eligible tight end,” Kiper said on a conference call. “Doesn’t mean he’ll come out. I haven’t heard yet on Howard whether he’s coming out or staying, but he could be the second tight end off the board.”
Howard didn’t come out, he’ll return to Alabama and coach Saban and hope that the Crimson Tide offense utilizes him for an entire season like it did in the final two games during crunch time. If so, Howard could easily be a first-round pick in the 2017 draft.
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss
What more does Kelly have left to prove? He led the SEC in passing yards (310.9 per game) and touchdowns, and those 31 scoring strikes even placed him in the top 10 nationally. He could have been one of the first few quarterbacks taken in the draft, right?
According to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News, Kelly didn’t get a first- or second-round grade when he asked the advisory board, and there are some deficiencies he can work through at Ole Miss in 2016. He threw 13 interceptions; he’s got to reduce his costly mistakes. There’s also something else that has come up on film, according to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
Watching Laremy Tunsil today, and can't help but notice that a lot of Chad Kelly's passes get batted down at the line.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 14, 2016
If Kelly can replicate his 2015 success next season and cut down on mistakes, he could skyrocket toward the top of the draft. He was already named as an early Heisman dark horse.
Montravius Adams, DT, Auburn
Adams finished the season with 44 tackles, 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss. He also had two forced fumbles and six quarterback hurries. He does a lot of things very well.
But he doesn’t do one thing exceptionally well, and that’s why Adams might not have gotten the grade he was looking for to leave Auburn and look for work as a pro. The best news for Adams, however: fellow defensive lineman Carl Lawson is also coming back for another season. With offensive lines focused on Lawson, Adams can hone his craft and find that one aspect of his game than can burst onto the scene.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee
After 105 tackles, six sacks and 14 tackles for loss, Reeves-Maybin was honored with a Second-Team All-SEC nod. With another season of work under his belt, he might be able to change that award to the All-American variety.
Reeves-Maybin still has lots of room to grow, and will do so next season under the tutelage of new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Tennessee’s new defensive front man has a history of turning defenses around quickly; Shoop could mold Reeves-Maybin into a national super star.